Clay Pit Ponds


Volunteers spread wood chips at Clay Pit Ponds © NYC Audubon

Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve is a little gem of a park toward the southern end of Staten Island that takes its name from the fact huge numbers of  bricks originated in its bounteous kaolin clay pits in the 19th century. NYC Audubon, with the support of an Audubon NY TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, has been fortunate to take several groups out to Clay Pit Ponds to introduce them to the history and wildlife of the park and also work to improve the park. On Friday, July 20th a group of 20 from CBS spent several hours removing invasive plants like Japanese Stiltgrass, placing new woodchips on the park’s trails and cutting back plants encroaching on the trails. On July 23rd and 24th we took two groups of students from our Bronx borough partner Rocking the Boat to the park to walk those very same trails, learn about the history of the area and check out the abundant wildlife in the park. We’ve really taken to Clay Pit Ponds and highly recommend it as a great place for New Yorkers to visit!

- John Rowden

Keep Your Eyes on the Egrets

Wing-tagged Great Egret in Morris County, NJ. @Jonathan Klizas

Great Egrets have been an important species for New York City Audubon ever since they started returning to nest in the Harbor in the 1980’s. In 2008 we joined forces with New Jersey Audubon, to figure out  where the nesting birds were finding food for themselves and their young. NYC Audubon started our banding program that same year. But leg bands on waterbirds can be hard to see – especially when the birds are standing knee-deep in water. So in June (2012) we started using wing tags on egrets. We tagged 25 birds, young of the year, with yellow tags. We’ve already gotten resighting reports from the New Jersey Meadowlands and from a wetland in Morris County, NJ. Who would have thought that Jamaica Bay birds fly 30 miles west to forage?
Please keep your eyes open for wing tags and leg bands! Let me know if you see one of our NY Harbor birds.

- Susan Elbin


Birding at Bergdorf’s

Bergdorf Goodman window © Donna Evans

This gives the term “hawking goods” a whole new meaning! If you find yourself walking down Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, you might notice some eye-catching windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The current theme of the women’s display windows is birdwatching and there is some lovely art providing support for the rather willowy mannequins. Donna Evans, a long-time and passionate volunteer for NYC Audubon, painted the backdrop murals in two of the five windows, which will be up through the end of July. In Donna’s own words, “They are the biggest things I’ve ever painted, and they are a scribbly love letter to birds and birding.” We think you did a beautiful job Donna!
- John Rowden

Kek-burr…. Have you seen a Clapper Rail?

Seaside Sparrow Nest - Just hatched! © Alison Kocek

NYC Audubon is part of a  multi-state marsh bird callback survey nicknamed SHARP (Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program), carried out by a network of researchers conducting marsh bird surveys along the coast from Delaware to Maine.  On June 22, NYC Audubon Intern Hilary Standish and I took part in a set of surveys on Staten Island; despite the blazing heat, we needed to complete our June survey before the end of the month. (Three surveys are needed,  in May, June, and July.)  Our team this year is led by Alison Kocek, MS student from SUNY Syracuse, and her crew (Kirsten Thoede and Kelly Long). One of Alison’s study sites is along Sawmill Creek on Staten Island; species found nesting at this site so far this season include clapper rail, saltmarsh sparrow, seaside sparrow, red-winged blackbird, marsh wren, willet, and mallard.


Saltmarsh and seaside sparrows are priority species for NYC Audubon and focal species for Alison. She started a sparrow banding program this year to identify individual birds at Sawmill Creek, and she is also tracking nest success.  According to the data, nesting on saltmarsh isn’t easy! At Sawmill Creek, only two of six sparrow nests survived the extremely high moon tides in May. A second round of nests has been successful, though, with chicks becoming mobile before well ahead of any extreme high tides.


There’s some exciting news as well:  This is the first year that saltmarsh sparrows have been observed nesting in an area recently restored for tidal flow. Alison’s study provides important feedback to New York City Parks Natural Resources Group on their restoration efforts.


You can read more about SHARP at


Saltmarsh Sparrows - 3 days old Photo by Alison Kocek

- Susan Elbin

Horseshoe crab monitoring ends for the year

Volunteer Alison measuring a horseshoe crab © NYC Audubon

Since early May, if you visited a beach in Jamaica Bay on a night around the full or new moon at high tide, you might’ve run into an intrepid band of NYC Audubon volunteers counting horseshoe crabs in support of our citizen science project in the bay. On June 21st we completed our last surveys of the spring/summer and the data indicate that spawning peaked earlier this year than in previous years, potentially due to our mild winter and spring. In addition to counting crabs, the volunteers tagged more than 700 individuals, which help illuminate movement patterns and longevity. We are in the process of analyzing the data, as well as the information that our shorebird monitors collected on migratory shorebirds in the bay. Thanks to all our volunteers who worked so hard to collect data over these past couple of months!

- John Rowden

Banding American Oystercatchers in New York

American Oystercatcher banded 2U

For the first time, American Oystercatchers have been banded in New York State! On Tuesday, June 5th, we took a team to the Arverne area in Far Rockaway to band this beautiful and threatened shorebird. Oystercatchers nest on the beach in a scrape in the sand and at Arverne they nest in full view of the many beachgoers who enjoy the beach. The Urban Park Rangers protect their nesting sites by roping off the areas where the birds nest and patrolling the beach. Working with Shiloh Schulte from the Manomet Center for Conservation Science and Urban Park Rangers staff, we netted five American Oystercatchers, placed identifying bands on them and took some physical measurements. These data will add to the regional effort to understand and protect the species along the Atlantic Coast and we’re excited that New York is now part of this larger effort. If you’re on a beach in the Rockaways, keep an eye out for our banded birds!

- John Rowden and Susan Elbin

Oystercatchers on the Beach

American Oystercatcher Photo by Steve Nanz

The American oystercatcher is among the top ten priority species of conservation concern for New York City Audubon. This large, conspicuous beach-nesting shorebird eats mainly shellfish and can be seen walking or running along the beach. The Atlantic Coast population has decreased dramatically and New York City Audubon is part of a larger regional effort to assess oystercatcher productivity in Jamaica Bay and along the Rockaway Peninsula. Nesting is in full swing. On Friday I accompanied NYC Audubon field technician Emilio Toban as he monitored the beaches at Breezy Point for new nests or hatched eggs. One of the challenges in working with oystercatchers – they share their nesting beaches with endangered piping plovers. Aggressive encounters have been reported, and our partners from Pace and Columbia Universities are part of the team, studying the impact of these behaviors by observing both species.

- Susan Elbin

American Oystercatcher

Wild for wildflowers!

New York City Audubon was happy to participate in NYC Wildflower Week this year, which will wrap up on Sunday May 20th. We hosted a bird walk last weekend in Central Park and on Wednesday of this week we took a crew to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens to pull invasive plants, which will give native plants and wildflowers a better opportunity there. After the recent rains the invasive plants were having a field day and our crew removed large amounts of Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Honeysuckle and Porcelainberry – all while avoiding the native Poison Ivy, which is an important food source for birds in the fall. We thank the Jamaica Bay Unit of the National Park Service for hosting our group and helping to make the event a success.

- John Rowden

Here come the horseshoe crabs!

Volunteers spotting horseshoe crabs © NYC Audubon

What’s your idea of the best way to spend a foggy evening in early May? If your answer involves roaming a beach in Jamaica Bay looking for spawning arthropods, then join the crowd! Last night kicked off NYC Audubon’s citizen science horseshoe crab monitoring program for this year and we had crews at three beaches in Jamaica Bay surveying for spawning crabs (of course, in truth the horseshoe crab isn’t a crab, it’s more closely related to spiders and scorpions, but we still use ‘crab’ as the shortened term for them). For the fourth consecutive year we are monitoring Brooklyn’s Plumb Beach for spawning and will be collecting a second year of data at Dead Horse Bay (also in Brooklyn) and the beach at Big Egg in Queens. We are interested in the health of Jamaica Bay’s horseshoe crab population because of the reliance of migratory shorebirds on horseshoe crab eggs for food (see an earlier blog post for more information). For three nights around each new and full moon for the next couple of months, dedicated volunteers will brave any and all conditions to collect data that are showing how important Jamaica Bay is for spawning horseshoe crabs. In fact, the data indicate that Jamaica Bay supports the highest densities of spawning horseshoe crabs in the state – not bad for our favorite urban estuary. Kind of makes you want to howl at the moon!
- John Rowden

Arbor Day is for the birds!

Removing lesser celandine © NYC Audubon

Friday April 27th was Arbor Day in New York state (did you know that?!) and to celebrate the spirit of the day, a group of NYC Audubon volunteers spent the morning of April 28th in Manhattan’s Riverside Park helping the Riverside Park Fund improve habitat in the Woodland Restoration Area at 116th Street. The dedicated and enthusiastic crew planted 150 Viburnum lentago bushes (otherwise known as nannyberry) in sunny spots throughout the woodland; the berries of this plant are an important food source for birds in the fall. The volunteers also removed a lot of noxious invasive plants, including grapevine and lesser celandine, that choke out native plants. It was a beautiful morning and there were plenty of birds darting about in the spring sunshine. Through the efforts of these volunteers, the habitat will be better for these avian visitors in the years to come.

- John Rowden